BOSTON – As Earth Day approaches and environmental protection is in the crosshairs at the federal level, seven leading environmental organizations released a report card grading the second year of the Baker administration on its environmental policies and leadership. The administration received the mediocre grade of "C".
The grade, the same as last year, represents a lack of progress on many issues highlighted in the first year’s assessment. The report covers seven priority issue areas: energy, water, toxics, land protection, environmental justice, solid waste, and the state budget. Grades ranged from a high of “A” for work on a food waste ban and a “B+” on energy efficiency, land conservation and electric vehicles to a low of “D-” on solid waste data collection, and a “D” for gas pipelines, reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector, water pollution, and decreasing the amount of solid waste. With continued inadequate funding for state environmental agencies, the administration gets a “C” on the budget.
"When it comes to protecting our air, our water, and our climate, Governor Baker is falling short," said Ben Hellerstein, State Director for Environment Massachusetts. "Our environmental agencies are suffering from years of underfunding, too many of the environmental protections on the books are going unenforced, and we're not moving nearly fast enough on clean energy. We need to do better to ensure a safe, healthy environment for our children."
“The Commonwealth and the administration should not be satisfied with a C grade," said Nancy Goodman, Vice President for policy at the Environmental League of Massachusetts. "At a time when Massachusetts should be leading, we are falling behind. Inadequate funding and staffing continue to plague the agencies. That, combined with a lack of vision and leadership, is creating a crisis in terms of protecting our natural resources, enhancing public health and combating climate change.”
The percentage of the state budget spent on environmental protection has dropped from $231 million (0.6 percent) of the budget to an inconsequential $218 million (0.53 percent) of the total $40.9 billion state budget. While Governor Baker made a campaign commitment to increase spending to 1 percent of the overall budget over 4 years, his three budgets have moved the Commonwealth in the opposite direction, leaving state environmental agencies cut to the bone. While we recognize other needs, environmental agencies now border on the dysfunctional.
The results are clear. We are seeing a lack of enforcement of our environmental laws and very little data collection and new research to help inform decisionmaking. We see continued support for expensive and unnecessary fossil fuel infrastructure which conflicts with the Commonwealth’s statutory commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. We see significant backlogs in water permitting and very little attention paid to environmental justice communities that suffer adverse public health and quality of life impacts from environmental and health hazards.
The report evaluates the Administration’s progress and on-the-ground results, and offers a set of policy recommendations for each issue area and a proposed path back to environmental leadership for the Commonwealth. The report was issued by Charles River Watershed Association, Clean Water Action, Conservation Law Foundation, Environmental League of Massachusetts, Environment Massachusetts, Massachusetts Rivers Alliance, and Massachusetts Sierra Club, representing thousands of residents of the Commonwealth.
"Now more than ever, the states need to lead the way on clean energy and climate change, and Massachusetts should be at the head of the pack,” said Carol Gregory, Interim Director of CLF Massachusetts. “Unfortunately, once again we are seeing the Baker Administration fall short. From climate preparedness to toxic landfill emissions, there are serious challenges ahead for our state, and it’s critical that the Governor devote his time, resources and political willpower to taking them on.”
"With the federal government stepping back from its commitment to protect our environment, the time is long overdue for the state to step up and do its part," said Julia Blatt, Executive Director of Massachusetts Rivers Alliance. "More than half our rivers are polluted, one-fifth run dry when they shouldn't, our water infrastructure is falling apart, and on top of that we've got droughts and floods from climate change. We call on the administration to tackle these problems, which will require investment, commitment, and stronger partnerships with the environmental community.”
"More than ever the country is looking for leadership from Massachusetts on the environment," said Emily Norton, Director of the Massachusetts Sierra Club. "This report demonstrates there is a lot of room for improvement. More clean energy means more jobs and a healthier, safer future."
"Past administrations, both Democrat and Republican, have led the way on significant environmental protection initiatives but we have yet to see that kind of leadership from the Baker Administration," said Elizabeth Saunders, Massachusetts Director for Clean Water Action. "With the effects of climate change already taking hold across the Commonwealth and the world and continued high rates of cancer and other illnesses linked to environmental exposures, this is not the time to put the environment on the back burner."
“We often view climate change as a greenhouse gas issue,” said Bob Zimmerman, Executive Director of the Charles River Watershed Association. “But we will suffer the impacts in water: way too much, way too little, overheated, and surging. Addressing climate change requires a far better understanding of the water impacts and how we can manage them for resiliency and adaptation."